It has come to the saddest point in the season, returning to a winter of solitude without a team to keep me company. This process occurs every year but doesn't make it any easier. I feel like a juvenile osprey setting-off on migration, abandoned by his family...ok, a bit dramatic I know. The season has been like a supportive osprey family this year, and it is sad that people who come into your life so fast and make such strong bonds, are as quick to leave it. I will leave you with the words from the team that will hopefully not make you cry as much as me! 
Laura's parting words...
An empty nest.
I must confess, when it dawned on me that we weren’t going to play host to a nesting pair of osprey this season, I was disappointed. Having never knowingly seen an osprey before this year, and having prior experience from Springwatch of how rewarding close-up bird-watching can be, I felt somewhat cheated by what I could have won.  
Now, while some might blame Blair for jinxing the nest, I think that’s unfair - we can’t blame him for everything (tempting though that is). But having come all the way from Somerset to Scotland some big questions remained. What would we talk about day to day? How would we keep folk entertained and interested? How could I compete with Fergus’ ever changing hair styles?
To help, I decided to get busy and fill the osprey shaped void with other things. At first it was the novelty of the beautifully coloured siskins, the relentless greater spotted woodpeckers and of course, the red squirrels. What a treat it is to be greeted by them every morning, their bushy blonde tails bobbing through the understory of heather and blaeberry. Many visitors had never seen one, and it was always a pleasure to share these lovable creatures with others.
Closer to home, badgers came to forage around the house I stayed in every evening – an animal I’d rarely seen alive for more than a moment became a nightly visitor, and I’m not ashamed to say that I had to stop myself swearing when my first every pine marten streaked across the lawn whilst the in-laws were visiting.  
All in all it didn’t take long for Abernethy Forest to start filling the void. I’ve seen more of the natural world than I could have hoped for – capercaillie, goshawk, pygmy shrew, red deer, Northern damselfly, redstart, toothed fungus, round-leaved sundews, huge wood ant nests, golden eagles, crossbill and yes – plenty of ospreys. Strathspey is home to more than one osprey nest and rarely a day went by without seeing at least one of those wonderful birds, often from the supermarket carpark in Aviemore!
But it has to be said that my hands-down favourite and most precious Abernethy memory will be the forest itself.
This tiny but vitally important fragment of Caledonian Scots pine had me at hello. No other forest in the UK will ever quite live up to this one – it’s a mystical, beautiful, ancient eco-system where the dead wood is as revered as the living, standing giants.
It turns out that Loch Garten is about so much more than the ospreys, and although with over 5,000 recorded species I was never going to get anywhere near meeting them all, I’d love to come back and give it a go.
And if you are planning a visit to come to see the world-famous ospreys in the future, make sure you also take the time to take a slow walk in the forest and get to know that too. I guarantee that like me, you will not leave disappointed.
 Cheers!
 
Lucys last hoorah...
Hello/ Goodbye
It has been such an incredible learning experience living and working in Abernethy over these past 6 months, I can’t believe the season has ended already. Although this year Loch Garten did not have any resident Ospreys, I feel like I have learnt loads about the different wildlife that Abernethy has to offer; with the occasional dose of osprey drama as well!
Some of my personal highlights have been watching all the fungus emerge. On my list of things I wanted to see while I was up here was Devils Tooth Fungus and Blue toothed fungus, both were so incredible. I have taken far too many rubbish photos that will not do them justice. 
Probably the thing I will miss the most about Abernethy is the red squirrels. I always think back to the first moment I ever saw a red squirrel a few years ago when I lived in Anglesey and living here, I have been spoiled rotten with daily sightings.
From this experience I will take away with me wonderful memories and hundreds of rubbish wildlife photos that I will treasure forever.
 Thanks to the rest of the team for helping me become a fully-fledged birder, I’ve learnt so much from all the staff and volunteers.
 I hope the next Osprey season with be a fruitful one and I will definitely be back to visit!
Next up we have Alex's exploits...
Hello folks,

What a wonderful season it’s been. Although our Osprey had a gap year, I couldn’t have wished for such a valuable experience and that’s predominantly thanks to all of your visits, support and biscuits! From Springwatch’s cameras, to crested tit displays, scrambling red squirrels, to tiny toadlet emergence, the reserve has opened my eyes to the bounty of wildlife the Cairngorms has to offer.
The time I’ve spent here has truly flown by and the team at Loch Garten have been an absolute pleasure to work alongside, filling the centre with knowledge, laughter and happiness, despite our nest looking vacant. I’ve loved meeting all of our dedicated volunteers and at first was shocked at how many of them have returned each and every year, however it didn’t take long for me to realise why. I’ll miss the sponginess of the moss, the scaliness of the Caledonian scots pine bark and the lapping of the loch. It really has been the most beautiful surroundings I’ve ever had the privilege of working in, made even more special by being able to share it with all of you who visited.

It is time however, for most of us here at the Osprey Centre to move onto different climbs, as the majority of us migrate South for the winter back to family, alternate work and midgelessness. I’d just like to wholeheartedly thank every single one of you who made the effort to visit the centre, and even more so those of you who support us and continue to do so along the way, it’s not just the osprey that make this place what it is.

Yours ospreythfully,

Alex 
Steven's final sonnet...
As we close the Visitor Centre for another year I reflect on my second fabulous season at Loch Garten. One of my highlights was definitely singing crossbill around the osprey’s nest and the incredible amount of activity in the forest during early spring. Apparently they like the taste of camera cables as we discovered whilst putting up the nest camera! It was wonderful to re-visit the woodland through Ryvoan Pass and see the Green Lochan again, where I encountered a group of redpoll. Another highlight must be seeing a young cuckoo from the visitor centre windows begging for food from its surrogate meadow pipit parents of only a few months.
As a team we have watched the seasons fade from spring into summer and summer fade towards autumn. We witnessed the yearly burst of pine pollen dusting every surface and forming tide lines in the puddles. Of late, the heather has burst through the forest into a hue of purples I don’t recall as being so vivid last year. On the other hand the swathes of cotton grass that bobbed in the breeze, catching the sunlight like soft flames over the peatbog in front of the visitor centre last year, was hardly visible but for a few wisps of cotton this year.
It’s been a fantastic autumn for fungi too in the forest. The visitor centre path and trails are literally mushrooming up with them. The start of the season was very cold, particularly at night, where for several weeks our visitor centre moth trap was mostly empty because nothing was flying. Whilst there was not as much opportunity to run the trap this year, we still caught some amazing moths with a Garden Tiger moth being one of my favourites. You’ve got to love a classic showstopper of a moth; of which it is exceptional!
What of the ospreys you say? Visits to the Loch Garten erie have been more or less constant, if brief, for the whole of the later half of the season from late July to early August. We recorded one almost at least every other day. The appearance of an osprey stopping by at the centre has been a pleasant surprise causing a small commotion. The nice thing was that most visitors saw it as an added bonus to their visit, appreciating the osprey before returning their attention to the rest of the forest.
It’s been great to be here for the 60th anniversary and hear some of the stories from visitors who were the original volunteers or knew people involved in operation osprey. Unfortunately I didn’t make the big weekend because I was visiting the largest puffin colony on the East coast of Scotland (a hard sacrifice!) but the legends live on.
Whilst in the highlands I took the opportunity to join Trees For Life this summer on one of their Tree Nursery volunteering weeks where they are growing native trees from local seed to supply their conservation projects. The charities aim
As I look to pastures new, I hope to stay in the world of nature conservation and the many good people doing great work towards a wilder future for people and nature. In the words of George Monbiot; they hope, as we all hope, that our silent spring will be replaced by a raucous summer.
Sayonara brothers. Peace out.

Steven

And finally we have Chris...

“Knowing another is endless. The thing to be known grows with the knowing.” 

I ended my start of season blog with this quote from Nan Shepherd - and I think it bears repeating now that we have reached the end. Because if there is one thing that I've come to appreciate after spending six months trying to get to know the Abernethy forest - it is that I have barely scratched the surface of this special place. And the more I think that I'm starting to understand it, the more my lack of knowledge and understanding quickly becomes apparent. 

But as we come to the end, I thought I would use this blog to share a few things that I have found out over the past few months.

To begin with - my whole idea of a pine tree has been turned upside down. I knew that the tall, thin, branch-less plantation pine was far from whole story, but the Scot's pines I've met here have blown me away with their character and individuality. Some are over 350 years old, their limbs spread like the mightiest oak and standing sentinel in the open, airy areas that define the oldest parts of the forest. The ancient woodland here is a far cry from dark oppressive plantations that we see around the UK - and it is a much poorer place for a lack of ancient woodlands like these. 

I've also met the trees nemeses'. I've come across the deer that browse on the youngest saplings and prevent the forest from regenerating naturally, I've seen the ancient boughs brought to earth by tiny burrowing beetles and the bare crowns that are a tell-tale sign of a fungus killing the trees from the top down. 

But I've also seen some of the life that is found in their death. Woodpeckers and crested tits need standing deadwood to make their nests and the fungal forms that sprout in these woods simply need to be seen to be believed. An incredible array of insect life chews its way through the decay and I even came across a parasitic ichneumonid wasp; hawking the woods to find the larvae of these wood burrowing beetles, ready to inject their own eggs directly inside their bodies. 

I've started to understand how some of the complementary species found here make a pine forest work; from the pioneering birch, willow and rowan to the water-loving aspen and alder. The juniper full and thorny at the forest's edge, and the blaeberry, cowberry and heather a soft cushion on the forest floor. 
  
And hidden amongst it are the small moments that have defined its beauty for me. Random encounters, which lasted a few seconds each, but which will stay in my memory for ever. 

The panic of the songbirds was a tell-tale sign that a goshawk was cruising through the branches; a momentary glimpse giving a sense of seasoned ease that belied the bird's power and purpose. 

The pop and crackle of the capercaille, an otherworldly sound from an otherworldly beast; a monster which wouldn't be seen. 

And the soft contact calls of the crossbills as they travelled together through the treetops, plucking the pine cones to prise open. 

Nan is most certainly right - the forest is a hard place to know (if only there was a handy phrase about seeing the wood when there are trees in the way), but only by being here for this amount of time have I even been able to start. 

But the sad fact that we often use when we speak to visitors here is that there is only around 1% of this forest left. Repetition can sometimes make a fact lose its potency - but not in this case. 1% just isn't not good enough. We simply have to protect what we have left, and find ways to help the forest to recover. 

Only then will there be an opportunity for future generations to explore Abernethy forest like I have done this summer - and hopefully have a chance to start to know it, and see it grow with the knowing, for themselves. 
Chris 
...*sniffles* ...*sniffles* ...I'm not crying, I have just been reading these blogs and welling behind the eyes. Maybe I am allergic to my osprey family... I'm sure Laura has lice, that must be it. I will leave you with an image from a simpler time. I will keep you posted as much as I can with the goings-on at the osprey centre, and might even see a couple of you cruising around for cresties over the winter.  
Much love, 
Osprey Team
Anonymous
  • Thank you, All. Good descriptions there, of the fascination of this part of the world, and it's hold upon you which I suspect will remain long after you've left. Thanks from all of us especially who have never been to Abernethy but try to absorb all the atmosphere there, just the same, from a distance.

  • Thanks for the post Fegus, 2020 will be a successful osprey season, I have no doubt. Ian